When you are in college, it is important that you value the details while writing an answer or preparing an assignment. It is important that you keep in mind that even a very well-written dissertation can seem to be nothing if it does not contain a good annotated bibliography. If you are a student pursuing masters, then there will be times when you will have to write an annotated bibliography. At times, it will be as part of an assignment and at times, it will be a separate assignment. But first things first! Before you start writing your assignment, you should definitely have a clear idea of what an annotation is and what a bibliography is.

Many students tend to think of an annotation is a very brief summary of a book, an article, or any type of publication. However, this is a wrong idea. Instead of a summary, an annotation should present enough information for the reader to be able to decide whether or not he wishes to read the complete work. Although the annotations can be descriptive, it does not mean that they are abstract. An annotation should be critical and include some unique and distinctive features about a work.

An annotated bibliography is where you organize a list of sources. You can also think of it as a reference list. However, the key difference between an annotated bibliography and a simple bibliography is that in an annotated one, each of the references is followed a paragraph-long annotation. This kind of bibliography gives a brief account of the research that has been conducted on a concerning topic. While the author writes the annotation of a source mentioned in the bibliography, it is important that he evaluates the source in a critical manner.

Writing an annotated bibliography is not one of the easiest tasks that you will come across during your college years. Here are a few steps that you can follow to write a good one:

1. Select the sources

Whenever you are about to write a paper, the first thing that you should do is find the best sources for your research. This is where the process starts. There is no other way to do so. The author or the student should keep in mind that the quality of the bibliography that he is about to create will majorly depend on the sources that he selects. In order to improve the quality of sources that you select for your assignment,  you should readily define the range of your research. There should be pre-defined boundaries for your research. By doing so, you will be able to decide better what to include and what to exclude in your sources.

Some of the questions that you should try to answer in order to figure out the clear boundaries for your research are: What problem is it that you are trying to investigate? What questions are you trying to find answers for? For instance, if the bibliography that you are trying to write is based on a general or usual topic, you can try forming your topic on a series of questions so that you can define your search clearly. However, if it is a research-based project, then chances are that it will be based on a research question.
Another question that you need to ask yourself is that what kind of material are you looking for? Are you looking for journal articles or primary historical sources? There should be a clear divide in this manner.

If you ask these questions to yourself at the beginning itself, the process of selecting the sources can become a lot easier.

2. Examine the relevance and value of your sources

Once you have finalized the list of sources you are going to be using, this seems to be the logical next step. In the process of writing a bibliography, the next thing you do is an assessment of how important a source is in connection with the research issue at hand. If the bibliography that you are preparing is part of an assignment, you should figure out whether or not you are going to use the source. If yes, then how? However, if it is an independent project that you are preparing, make sure that you figure out the contribution of the source to the research process.

Try asking yourself the following questions in order to do this assessment in the best possible manner:

  • Does the source in question help you explore new ways of understanding a topic of research?
  • Why do you wish to use the source? Is it because of the way it frames the topic of research or because of the way it investigates it?
  • If there is a piece of evidence that you wish to use in your project, how does the chosen source analyse it?
  • How does the source use the research topic’s initial concept?
  • How do the conclusions mentioned in the source align with your own investigation?

If you wish to determine how the source will contribute to your project, you will need to answer the question, ‘why is it of value?’ How well defined is the research problem? How good is the evidence? Are you likely to chalk out the same conclusions from the evidence? While doing all of this, keep the context of your research and project in mind.

3. Evaluate the background of the author

As already mentioned, the quality and usefulness of the bibliography you write depend on the quality of the sources you choose. In order to make sure that you choose the best sources for your research, it is imperative that you examine and evaluate the author’s credentials and experience. Many students tend to miss out on this. However, a blind faith on whatever you find on the big wide world of internet is nothing but a grave mistake. There is abundant content available on the web and the quality can vary drastically. Therefore, in order to make sure that you write a good bibliography, it is important for you to evaluate the quality of the author. In order to do so, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the author in question hold a good amount of expertise?
  • If the author holds some expertise, is it related to the issue of research at hand?
  • Are any of the author’s credentials including academic and critical reviews strictly related to the research topic?
  • What are the intellectual alignment and the school of thought of the author?

If you can answer all these questions clearly and well, there are chances that you will be able to evaluate the quality and the credentials of an author very well.

4. Summarize the argument or the point of a source

While writing the bibliography, you need to give a quick view of the topic in question. In an annotated bibliography, you need to understand the primary argument or the point of a source. Understand that an annotation means briefly stating the main argument of a source. If you are annotating an academic source, the process is to identify its hypothesis, research question or the thesis. You also need to identify the major methods involved in the investigation and the main conclusions drawn in the source. However, while doing so, always keep in mind that identifying the primary argument of a source is absolutely different from merely listing down the contents. Instead of listing down the contents of the source, you should try answering the question as to why the contents are there.

If you are wondering how to do all this, you should try answering the following questions:

  • What is the claim of the source? What is the primary research question that the author gas answered in the work?
  • What are the key terms that occur in the question of the research in the source?
  • What are the mains sections into which the content of the source has been divided?

Answering all these questions will help you summarize the arguments of all the sources better.

5. Write the bibliography

You have completed all the steps. You have the summaries of all the sources that you are using in your project. The next step is to create the bibliography. Make sure you are careful while doing so. There are different types of annotated bibliography. In most of the cases, if the bibliography has been assigned to you by a professor, he would have directed you to use a specific type. If not and you are writing it as an independent project, then make sure that you follow one style and that you get it right.

An annotated bibliography is major of three kinds:

These three styles are different from each other. However, there are two things that remain the same in all of these styles:

  • The name of the author is always mentioned on the left.
  • The remaining text needs to be indented.

While writing the bibliography, make sure that you follow a certain style and stick to it. Any confusion leading to any kind of mistake in the format can lead to the loss of marks. Therefore, make sure that you follow the required format in the bibliography.

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